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Characteristics of Modern World-Systems Essay


The world is made up of several social systems which are integrated to incorporate economic and political systems. There are three categories of world-systems: World-empires and world-economies and socialistic systems. According to Wallerstein (1976) a modern world-system may be defined as a social system that is composed of limitations, organizations, groups of individuals, rules and regulations and has unity among different groups.

The world-system has various forces which conflict with each other because each unit tends to seek its own benefits from the system. World-systems have organic characteristics in that they change in some aspects and maintain stability in others. Social systems are independent because they develop by themselves. However, you cannot delineate social systems from external forces even though these forces have little impact on the social systems (Wallerstein, p. 391).

World-empires and world-economies

Social systems are small and independent from other systems which demand external support. This definition disqualifies most systems which are said to be social systems such as tribes, communities and nations. These are large systems and have a large influence emanating from the external environment. Such systems have many cultures within themselves and division of labor is a common thing in these systems. There are two types of such world-systems which are classified as world-empires and world-economies.

World-empires have only one political system which maintains the control of all social systems in a specific area. In world-economies there exists more than one political system which controls all the activities of a given area. In the past, world-economies were not stable and they were used as empires or were left to disintegrate by themselves. However, world-economies have been in existence for many years and they have never been converted into world-empires (Wallerstein, p. 391).

Introduction of socialism

The fact that world-economies have been in existence for many years and they have never been converted into world-empires has brought about the issue of capitalism. The existence of capitalism is based on the fact that world-economies are established on the basis of many political systems.

Capitalism is not immune from state interference and instances of influence into the economic affairs by the state have been experienced in many capitalistic economies. However, in capitalistic system political control have minimal control and cannot entirely control the entire system. In a capitalism system economic loss is absorbed by the political systems while private individuals benefit from the economic gains. This means that political factors have minimal control in a capitalistic economic system (Wallerstein, p. 392).

Therefore, capitalists have the freedom to maneuver the economic systems for their own benefits. This system distributes rewards to all people in the society unequally because a few individuals manage to tap the economic benefits. The process of making decisions is the best mechanism that can be used to alter the pattern in which rewards are distributed in an economic system.

This calls for the establishment of a socialistic world system. This system of world governance requires that economic resources be equally distributed to avoid disparities in the society (Wallerstein, p. 392).

Nature of world-systems

The level of technology determines the size of world-economies. Specifically, the level at which transport and communication has been developed in a country determines the size of world-economies. Thus, the extent of world-economies keeps on changing because technology is never constant.

Division of labour is a major characteristic of world-economies and this may be functional and/or occupational. Thus, economic tasks are not equally distributed in such a system. The cause of unequal distribution of labor is caused by ecological factors or social arrangements at the workplace. As such some groups of individuals exploit the work of other groups in the society by obtaining greater amount of benefits from labour (Wallerstein, p. 392).

World-empires tend to introduce culture into the occupational activities while world-economies tend to link political systems with culture. This situation is experienced because world-economies have political pressure from the state. The cultural homogeneity found in the two systems is used to satisfy the needs of major pressure groups which aim at establishing cultural and national identities. Integration of state machinery and culture helps reduce disparities that exist in a world-system (Wallerstein, p. 392).

A world-economy is explained in terms of core-states as well as peripheral areas. The core-states are the advantaged regions in a world-economy while the peripheral areas are the disadvantaged regions. In a peripheral state have a colonial characteristic and small degree of autonomy. This is called a neo-colonial situation and is a major characteristic of peripheral states (Wallerstein, p. 392). Semi-peripheral areas also exist and these share the characteristics of core-states and the peripheral states.

These areas are known to have been core-states previously but they change and state acquiring the characteristics of peripheral states. On the other hand, some peripheral areas may have been promoted to become core-states and have not yet fully attained such status and therefore can be classified as semi-peripheral (Wallerstein, p. 393).

In a world-economy there is division of labour which is established to achieve greater levels of capitalization. The capital invested in a world-economy must be rewarded to ensure fair distribution of resources. The labour market is characterized by unequal distribution of human capital (labour) and this causes unstable supply and demand of labour.

The forces of labour demand and supply require world-economies to search technologies which bridge the gap between the labour supply and labour demand. Some regions within a world-economy change their labour structures to accommodate the requirements being initiated by the labour market. However, different sections of a world-economy have different labor demands. As such, the peripheral and semi-peripheral areas of a world-economy will have different labour needs and demands (Wallerstein, p. 393).

The ability of a particular area to maintain the status of a core-state is challenging because many modern world-systems are dynamic and regions are changing very fast. Over a long period of time some states tend to be replaced by others, therefore a particular core-state cannot remain dominant for a long period of time. It is also argued that world-economies can only assume a capitalistic system and feudalism is not acceptable in this system.

Socialist movement exists in a world-economy and they act as control measures to regulate the activities of the state. Without the regulatory measures in a world-economy the human resource would not be fairly distributed and human capital would be exploited for the gain of the capitalists (Wallerstein, p. 393).

In a world-system there are social classes as well as status groups. The social classes are defined by geographical coverage of the people practicing certain cultures. In any world-system social classes exist by default but the conditions for the existence of these classes depend on the political and economic systems within the system.

The existence of social classes creates conflicts among the various strata and social boundaries do exist to separate each social class. The class boundaries require privileges to be maintained within the world-system. The existence of social classes requires people to form alliances and this reduces the number of social classes in a world system. The social groups are defined by ethnicity, language or religion.

To establish many social groups in a world system creates conflicts and several groups emerge to solve these conflicts. However, despite the fact that various social groups emerge these groups are later absorbed and the number reduces automatically. However, in some systems there may exist no social groups while in others there may exist more than two (Wallerstein, p. 394).

Conflicts in a world system exist when there is more than one social class because conflicts involve two or more groups. Conflicts exist when one class of individuals identify itself as universal and when it tends to dominate other groups in the system.

The capitalistic class defines itself as a universal class and it tends to carry out its political pursuit to rule the other social classes. There is correlation between political activities and economic systems in a social group. Therefore, social classes tend to use the political and economic systems to rule others in a world system (Wallerstein, p. 394).

The European world-economy is an example of a system that applied the one-class system. This existed in the sixteenth century and this led to economic expansion of the system.

Dynamic forces existed in the economy and this created more profits to the state. The core-states of this world-economy were very sensitive to class differences. Political groups were defined according to their political roles in the state. There were different occupations for different groups of people for example; there were farmers, merchants, entrepreneurs as well as industrialists.

Each group aimed at obtaining profits from the economic activities they were involved in. However, each group had distinct characteristics from each other. For example, some groups were profit oriented while others are not. Some groups which advocated for the traditional aristocracy fought to gain status privileges while small farmers groups accepted their status without fighting (Wallerstein, p. 394).

The existence of different cultural practices caused many groups to collaborate and form alliances. The alliances were developed from political centers. France is an example of a country that had political system that was based on cultural set up of the people.

As such the Catholicism cultural practices influenced the shape and direction of the politics of the country. The issues about class differences in the society started to gain momentum during the sixteenth century. As such, capitalist class were started and gained a lot of influence to the political arena.

The existence of state made a lot of influence on the extent to which the political, capitalistic and social groups were formed. It is the state which controlled all the activities in a world-economy. However, no state machinery is strong enough to control all the systems and the capitalistic class had no systems to protect it from the gains and losses that would emanate from the entire system. State machineries are strong in some areas and weak in others (Wallerstein, p. 395).

Strong state machinery refers to the existence of strong political, social and economic structures in a state. The existence of political, social and economic groups in a state exerts enough pressure to the state and they influence the decisions made by state leaders. However, state managers as well as the bureaucracies put in place within a state control the interests of different groups that exist within it (Wallerstein, p. 395).

For example, the tax system in a state helps collect revenues which are used to implement the bureaucracies which have been placed in an economy. However, State bureaucracies have many limitations which hinder many processes but they cannot be removed because they are required for the safety of the state machinery (Wallerstein, p. 396).

In a situation where the state machinery is weak, the state leaders and managers play an insignificant role of coordinating all the mechanisms in the economy. As such they have limited legitimate authority to control the activities of the economy.

The existence of these types of leaders has been phased out in modern days because state leaders and managers must be vibrant and they should ensure that every aspect of the economy is operating well. In the modern world, states are governed by profit making ideologies where state managers control all resources to achieve maximum profits possible (Wallerstein, p. 397).


Modern world-systems are made up of world-empires and world-economies and socialistic systems. The existence of modern political, economic and social systems is founded from the traditional world-systems. There exist classes in a world system which defines various economic, political and social classes. the state leaders and managers have the obligation of uniting the various groups in the state to avoid conflicts among the groups.

Work Cited

Wallerstein, Immanuel Maurice. Capitalist agriculture and the origins of the European world-economy in the sixteenth century. Michigan, Academic Press, 2010. ISBN 0127859209, 9780127859200.

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